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Tompkins Cortland Community College

The TC3 Biotechnology A.S. degree program provides students an in depth, hands-on learning experience on current technologies used in modern biology. The core curriculum was modeled after the FLCC Biotechnology program. The primary focus on lab skill development lies in molecular genetics and cell culture techniques. There is also an emphasis on entrepreneurship so students appreciate the value of their intellectual property to the industry.   In 2005, the TC3 Biotechnology A.S. degree program was approved by the SUNY system. In 2008, faculty of the TC3 Biotechnology program partnered with FLCC on their NSF sponsored phase II CCLI project, “Community College Undergraduate Research: Building a Model of Integration.” TC3 is one of the original regional partners serving as co-PI on this NSF sponsored TUES project, “Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative.”


The Biotechnology program at TC3 was designed to follow the 4yr college track; with 1st semester  work aligned with the freshman year to 4th semester work comparable to senior level work. Akin with Bloom’s taxonomy,  the student’s critical thinking skills progressively increase each course, each semester; from basic rote memorization to evaluation and synthesis. Based on instructional methods at the graduate level and faculty forte in applied research, a similar taxonomy for lab techniques and research skills was developed; from the basic read a protocol and operate equipment to modify and develop new processes.


Chicken Embryonic Stem Cell Cultures

Embryonic stem (ES) cells hold great promise and are under intense investigation for therapeutic applications.  There is controversy surrounding the study of human ES cells; primarily concerned with the methods by which human ES cells are taken. Presently, the most commonly studied ES cells have come from the mouse. ES cells are found in the early stages of cellular development, usually during the first three days of cellular division of the fertilized zygote.   Maintaining ES cell cultures is demanding from a technical standpoint and not many undergraduate programs provide cell culture facilities to support such studies.  A more practical teaching tool for use in an academic lab may be the use of chicken ES cells.

Each cell type has specific markers that allow scientists to identify them.  Some of the markers common to ES cells are the transcription factor Oct-4, stage-specific embryonic antigens (SSEA), and telomerase activity.  The goal of this project is to develop a feasible ES cell culture kit applicable for student lab activities or educational demonstrations. Specific objectives are to streamline the isolation, culture, and identification of chicken ES cells.

Concepts embodied in this project are related to all aspects of cell biology. Primary cell isolation, cell culture techniques, hormonal induction and immunohistochemcial staining are several technical lab skills student’s gain from this project and are incorporated into the Cell Biology and Cell Culture Techniques course (BIOL220/221).

WHV Antisense (WHAsi) Gene Expression

The Woodchuck Hepatitis Virus (WHV) is a model for developing antiviral and cancer therapies for chronic HBV infections. The hepadnaviral genome consists of a partial double-stranded, circular, DNA molecule of approximately 3200-3300 bp. The core, surface, polymerase and X-gene products are encoded on the long (complete) strand of the viral genome. Putative genes on the partial (short) strand have been  ignored due to the lack of appropriate start codons or consensus transcriptional signals. We now recognize RNA splicing, polymerase frame shifting and alternate start codons as basic concepts in gene expression, which have been demonstrated in other viral models.

The goals of this project are to clone the predicted antisense genes into an eukaryote expression vector generating a green fluorescent fusion protein. These recombinant constructs (WHAsi) are expressed  in embryonic tissues  (chicken stem cells, frog and  zebra fish embryos) to  determine their localization and investigate their role in differentiation.

Concepts embodied in this project are related to molecular  genetics, cellular differentiation and cancer development. Bioinformatics, cloning, gene expression and microinjection are several technical lab skills student’s gain from this project and are incorporated into the General Genetics and Molecular Techniques courses (BIOL205/206).

Microbial Production of Biofuel

The use of renewable resources for biofuel production is dependent on increasing the efficiency of the process to break down complex sugars and convert them into alcohols. Cellulytic biomass is the favored resource. However, use of chemicals for hydrolysis and maintaining conditions for strict anaerobic bacterial degradation are difficult for backyard production. 

The goal of this project is to develop a backyard biofuel production unit that utilizes grass clippings. Specific objectives target the acid pretreatment, bacterial enzymatic digestion, fermentation and distillation processes. 

Concepts encompassed in this project are integrated into introductory majors level chemistry, biology, and greentechnology engineering courses. Chemical hydrolysis, enzyme activity, bacterial (and fungal) isolation and culture, scale-up production of biologics, and/or process development are all points of interest that students may pursue as a research project, beginning in General Microbiology lab (BIOL216).

Planaria Neoblast Culture System

Stem cells have important applications in regenerative medicine and in the treatment and prevention of diseases. In order to utilize stem cells as effective therapeutic agents, a better understanding of their biological properties is necessary. The study of stem cells should benefit from the use of planaria as a simple model organism.

Its regenerative properties are driven by a large population of stem cells called neoblasts that can give  rise to any part of the worm. While most studies are performed in vivo, an in vitro model would facilitate research on individual cells. Although technically challenging, student's are establishing conditions for maintenance of a planarian neoblast cultures that may play an important role in future developments.

BioDiesel for Sustainability@TC3

TC3 is a signature institution for a sustainable SUNY. Implementing composting, recycling and use of solar energy are all initiatives taken toward this goal. Over $6000 is spent on diesel fuel to run equipment for buildings and grounds each year. Waste vegetable oil from our dinner facilities can be converted into biodiesel for this purpose. Students from physics and green technology engineering have been evaluating plans to incorporate production of biodiesel on the TC3 campus as an economical part of this plan.


The TC3 Biotechnology program follows an integrated program design, what we term a Program Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE). Presently, case study teaching methods, coupled with group work and peer evaluations are employed in General Biology and General Microbiology courses. These instructional methods (via training at the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science)encourage students to come to class prepared, to apply their knowledge and analyze data, clarifying misconceptions along the way.  Lab activities demonstrate basic concepts, but are presented in case study fashion using techniques and reagents tied to Biotech projects.

As an example, one thread links the “Microbial Production of Biofuel” project. In General Biology, cellulase activity is measured using the filter paper assay during the “Enzyme Activity” lab. This is followed by comparing efficiency of cellulytic biomass during the “Fermentation” lab. In Microbiology students may elect to “Isolate and Characterize” cellulase producing microorganisms. Through connections in the CCURI network (BIOLINKD-PBL) we have incorporated a problem-based learning scenario, Bioinformatics, into the Microbiology curriculum. Students may choose to sequence their isolate to confirm strain. The lab component of the Genetics and Cell Biology courses revolve around these Biotech projects, as well. Students master the techniques and begin to explore research projects on which they may choose for their capstone course.

All students in the Biotechnology program are required to complete the “Biotechnology Research Seminar.” There are three projects (described below) on which the students can develop a research question parlaying their interest in microbiology, genetics or cell biology. Graduates present their research to prospective students in an Introduction to Biotechnology course.



Anecdotal: In reference to courses employing group work and peer evaluations common statements from students are, “I’ve never worked harder to earn this grade, but never learned so much in one course either.” and “I actually feel I’m learning.”  In reference to Bioinformatics, considering the summer break between semesters, students begin searching NCBI data bases relevant to their Molecular Genetics Techniques and/or Cell Culture Techniques courses without prompting. Statistical: Over a three year period implementing case study, group work and peer evaluations in General Biology the drop/failure rate decreased from 25% to 16% and passing rates increased from 67% (C or better) to 82%, compared to historical controls.  In 2011, the Critical-thinking Assessment Test (CAT) instrument was used to measure gains among students enrolled in Microbiology and Biotechnology Seminar courses. The critical-thinking skills among this cohort of students were on par with seniors at 4yr institutions. Case Studies: Two graduates are listed as co-inventors on Invention Disclosure statements and four reverse transfers have been admitted to graduate programs.

Vision and Change Implementation

Integrate Core Concepts and Competencies throughout the Curriculum

  • Introduce the scientific process to students early, and integrate it into all undergraduate biology courses

  • Relate abstract concepts in biology to real ­world examples on a regular basis, and make biology content relevant by presenting problems in a real ­life context 

  • Develop lifelong science ­learning competencies

  • Introduce fewer concepts, but present them in greater depth. Less really is more

  • Stimulate the curiosity students have for learning about the natural world


Focus on Student ­Centered Learning

  • Engage students as active participants, not passive recipients, in all undergraduate biology courses

  • Use multiple modes of instruction in addition to the traditional lecture

  • Ensure that undergraduate biology courses are active, outcome oriented, inquiry driven, and relevant

  • Facilitate student learning within a cooperative context

  • Introduce research experiences as an integral component of biology education for all students, regardless of their major

  • Integrate multiple forms of assessment to track student learning

  • Give students ongoing, frequent, and multiple forms of feedback on their progress

  • View the assessment of course success as similar to scientific research, centered on the students involved, and apply the assessment data to improve and enhance the learning environment


Promote a Campus wide Commitment to Change

  • Mobilize all stakeholders, from students to administrators, to commit to improving the quality of undergraduate biology education

  • Provide teaching support and training for all faculty, but especially postdoctoral fellows and early career faculty, who are in their formative years as teachers 

Engage the Biology Community in the Implementation of Change

  • Ensure that all undergraduates have authentic opportunities to experience the processes, nature, and limits of science

  • Provide all biology faculty with access to the teaching and learning research referenced throughout this report, and encourage its application when developing courses 

  • Create active ­learning environments for all students, even those in first ­year biology courses

High Impact Practices Implementation

First-Year Seminars and Experiences

Common Intellectual Experiences

Learning Communities

Writing-Intensive Courses

Collaborative Assignments and Projects

Undergraduate Research

Diversity/Global Learning

Capstone Courses and Projects

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